Teach & Serve III, No. 39 – Appreciation

Teach & Serve III, No. 39 – Appreciation

May 9, 2018

To my teachers, professors, colleagues and friends: THANK YOU. You have given me the gift of education and that is a blessing I can never, ever fully repay.

In the midst of Teacher Appreciation Week 2018, I am reminded, with more intentionality than I would typically apply, of the many teachers and educators who have made a difference in my life. During the course of the week, I have been tweeting my appreciation of the impact they have left on me. This post continues and expands on this theme.

The first teacher who made a mark on me was my grandmother, Lucille Kirk. She taught elementary school at Brown Elementary in Denver, Colorado, and she never, ever made teaching seem to me to be a chore. She made it seem an adventure. I have heard from so many of her former students of the life she led and the lives she changed. What a gift she must have been in the classroom. She was surely a gift to me as a grandmother.

I am more grateful than I can express to Mrs. Janet Batman, Ms. Barb Baxter, Mr. Henry Sellers and so many other teachers who took care of and inspired me when I was in kindergarten and elementary school at Parr Elementary School in Arvada, Colorado. These three educators and their colleagues nurtured in me a love of reading, of adventure and of imagination. Drawing through-lines across the map of my life, I can see the seeds they planted becoming the trees from which I now swing and in which I build makeshift houses. I wish I could time travel back to share with them my admiration and love.

At Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, Mr. Ralph Taylor and Mr. Dan Sarlo taught me about analysis and academic rigor. Mr.  John Vowells, SJ and Mrs. Anne Smith awakened a love of theater. Ms. Charlotte Read and my good, good friend, Mr. Michael Buckley introduced me to writing and photography. Mr. Tim Newton (good luck on your retirement!) challenged me to become a better artist (and to draw something – anything – that was not superheroes or Star Wars). Sister Benita Volk engendered in me an undying love of the English language. Dr. Chris Wheatley deconstructed and reconstructed everything I thought about education when I was in his classrooms at The Catholic University of America. These people set me on the course my entire life would take: the course of being an educator.

I wish I could be in a library run by Teri Brannan, my old Parr Elementary classmate. I wish I could observe Sean Gaillard, my best friend from college, as he shepherds the school at which he is principal. I wish I could more often see my sister, Janna Petersen, at work in her library. I miss Angie Mammano, the first teacher I could call “peer” who showed me in my initial years of teaching at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, MD, what this life is all about. I remember being amazed by Kim Smith, stunned by the knowledge and humor of John Staud, humbled by the gentle good will of Chris Pramuk, all of whom I worked with early in my career when I came to teach at my alma mater.

I cannot fathom the impact my best friend Jim Broderick King has had on me. He is one of the best teachers I know. I am humbled by those who came into my life as teachers when I was an administrator. Mike Meagher and Barb Bess could both put on clinics in excellent teaching. My friend Ryan Williamson is as passionate about doing right by students as teacher I have ever met. Cameron Turner, a former student of mine, is a better teacher than I will ever be. Leslie Larsen is the most empathetic teacher I have ever encountered. My son, Matthew Sheber Howard, will join this profession in the fall and I could not be any more proud. And my wife, Caroline Howard is simply an unequivocally and immensely gifted educator.

I am humbled to be joining the staff of Mullen High School in Denver in 3 short weeks. In my time there, I have already seen brilliant instruction, compassionate approaches to students, caring teachers and staff and a real commitment to this life and vocation we all share. I am already intimidated by their passion and zeal and I know their students are well cared for and loved. What a wonderful environment to join.

It is true that the work we do with students can be hard. It can be challenging. It can be heart wrenching. It is also true that appreciation for that work is, sometimes, faint and distant. We do not always hear “thank you.” We do not always feel the difference we so clearly make in people’s lives – in our students’ lives.

To my teachers, professors, colleagues and friends: THANK YOU. You have given me the gift of education and that is a blessing I can never, ever fully repay.

I will continue to try to be worthy of it.